The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 season ended not only prematurely, but also bitterly, suffering an early postseason exit after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in the Divisional Round by a score of 45-42. The wounds are still fresh, but it’s time to relive the 2017 season that was, starting from the beginning.
Chapter XX – Backups Tasked With Completing Browns’ Imperfect Season
It has become somewhat of an annual tradition. Over the course of the past two years, the final game of the regular season has seen the Pittsburgh Steelers, having already actually or virtually secured the best and worst possible scenario for the postseason, facing the Cleveland Browns, who are only trying to stave off additional ignominy.
This year’s shame was particularly palpable, as yet another defeat would ensure their first winless season in franchise history, and give them the single worst two-season run in NFL history, going just 1-31 in that span, during which they lost to Pittsburgh four times—and two Pittsburgh’s backups twice.
Naturally, that included the December 31 regular season finale. Landry Jones started at quarterback for Ben Roethlisberger. Stevan Ridley was the running back. Antonio Brown was already out injured. Cameron Heyward rested. Both Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro were inactive. DeCastro had played every snap of the season up to that point, the only player on the roster.
And, of course, the scoring would begin with a 29-yard Darrius Heyward-Bey touchdown an on end-around. He has had two rushing touchdowns for explosive yardage over the past two seasons, and both were impressive, physical efforts.
The real story of the game was of course rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who caught nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. He scored a second touchdown with a 96-yard kick return, which was the first for the Steelers since the second week of the 2010 season—scored by Brown on his first NFL touch.
In between Smith-Schuster’s first touchdown in the second quarter and his kickoff return score in the third, however, there was a lot of ugliness. The secondary allowed a number of explosive plays, including a 56-yard score to Rashard Higgins and a 54-yard near-score by Josh Gordon.
DeShone Kizer threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns against one interception while running for another 61 yards in what was perhaps the best game of his rookie season, while the defense was sitting just one starter. This proved to foreshadow an ugly showing in the postseason two weeks later.
The Steelers managed to win by a 28-24 margin, with neither team scoring in the final quarter. Corey Coleman dropped a wide-open pass on fourth and two from the Steelers’ 27, which pretty much ended the game.
The only other thing to really take away from the game was the fact that reserves such as Ridley, Matt Feiler, and Tyson Alualu played well. The Steelers played them even though the top seed was still on the line. Perhaps if they had that top seed, the playoffs might have gone a bit differently. Or perhaps not.